Qatari official: Afghan talks postponed indefinitely

A first round of Afghan-to-Afghan peace talks that would have seen Taliban and government officials sit together for the first time were postponed indefinitely after a falling out over who should attend.

Sultan Barakat, director of Qatar’s Center for Conflict andHumanitarian Studies, the organisation sponsoring the talks, tweeted news ofthe postponement on Thursday, saying “this is unfortunately necessary tofurther build consensus as to who should participate in the conference.”

   

The talks scheduled for Friday between Afghan and Talibanrepresentatives were considered a significant first step toward finding anegotiated end to the war in Afghanistan and the eventual withdrawal of the UStroops, which would end America’s longest war.

The senior official said negotiations went awry afterPresident Ashraf Ghani opposed a list of participants announced by Barakat’sorganisation. A list of 243 people was announced by Qatar on Thursday. Thatlist differed from Ghani’s list of 250 people, which included many more women,according to a senior government official, who spoke on condition of anonymitybecause he was not authorised to speak to the media.

The Taliban did not immediately comment but ZabihullahMujahed, Taliban spokesman, on Wednesday questioned the size of the governmentdelegation.

Efforts to find an end to the war in Afghanistan haveescalated since the appointment in September of US Peace Envoy ZalmayKhalilzad, who has held several rounds of talks with the Taliban.

The Taliban’s negotiating team numbers 14, including fiveformer inmates of the US prison on Guantanamo Bay.

The Taliban had previously refused to hold direct talks withGhani’s government, calling them puppets of the US. However, after pressurefrom Khalilzad and the government of Qatar, where the religious movementmaintains a political office, they agreed to an intra-Afghan dialogue thatincludes members of the government. Still, they said they would recognize themonly as ordinary Afghans, rather than government officials or ministers.

But Ghani struggled to cobble together a negotiating teamand was highly critical of a meeting held earlier this year in Moscow betweenthe Taliban and prominent Afghan representatives, including former presidentHamid Karzai.

Kabul’s many groups, including opposing warlords, politicalopposition and even feuding government officials have made the task of findingrepresentatives everyone can agree on a difficult one.

The government’s list of 250 participants is a reflection ofits “inability to gather the various political parties together and form ateam that can speak with one voice,” said Bill Roggio, editor of the LongWar Journal.

“There is much distrust amongst the political partiesand other groups, particularly after some groups met the Taliban in Russiawithout the permission of the Afghan government,” said Roggio.

Ghani’s list of 250 people included 54 women, compared tothe Qatar list which included only 10.

Suraya Pakzad, an Afghan women’s rights activist, said theAfghan Women’s Network was also planning to send 18 women to the talks in theQatar capital of Doha.

Actress Angelina Jolie had even donated USD 10,000 to coverexpenses, she said. But on Wednesday they were told that their sponsors in Dohawho were to escort them from the airport had backed out and without escortsthey may not be allowed to leave the airport. They were also not guaranteedentrance to the talks and so cancelled their plans before the talks wereofficially postponed.

Pakzad said Ghani’s list of women had also been pared downfrom the original 54 to 11 after Qatar had argued against the large contingentof women.

Khalilzad has on several occasions told Afghans in Kabulthat it will be up to them to negotiate women’s rights, freedoms and rule oflaw with the Taliban, who imposed a regressive interpretation of Islam whenthey were in power that forbade women from working and denied girls schooling.

Khalilzad’s direct talks with the Taliban have been narrowlyfocused on a timetable for US troop withdrawal and guarantees from thereligious militia that Afghanistan would not again be used to stage terrorattacks.

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